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-- by Lynn Ginsberg
Small-business owner Brian Bennett's motivation for launching his Web site (http://www.culinarysoftware.com) was a nagging feeling that he was missing out on a major business opportunity.
Bennett's company, Culinary Software Services, sells specialty software for chefs, restaurants and other food service professionals. "Everything I had been reading in the computer and restaurant press told me I needed to get up on the Web," Bennett says. Opportunity knocked when Bennett was contacted by a Web site owner who offered to swap the creation and hosting of his own small promotional Web site in exchange for using some of Bennett's proprietary content. "It was an opportunity to evaluate the Web without any risk or expense," Bennett explains.
The results from Bennett's initial foray onto the Web were mixed. The trial site had only three pages of basic information, and over the initial three months the site averaged a mere 24 hits a day. Less than 1 percent of his revenues could be attributed to the Web.
Bennett decided a relaunch was in order, with a larger site he'd create himself. "I wanted to have not only our business information up there, but also value-added content like recipes, glossaries and conversion charts," he says. "I looked into having a local Web design firm develop a site for us, but they wanted about $100 per page. With our 60 pages of information we were looking at $6,000 to launch a site. I figured I could develop a Web site where the revenue would pay for our expenses, but only if I could keep the initial outlay low."
Bennett's new Web site opened in September 1996. He settled on a local ISP after evaluating the alternatives. He paid $100 for domain registration and pays $18 a month for the Web site hosting service.
The payoff from Bennett's new content-rich Web site was immediate. "Soon after relaunching we were doing 146 hits a day," Bennett says. Just four months later, the site is averaging 604 hits a day, and over 18,000 hits a month. And 15 percent of Bennett's revenues now come from the Web. "The best part of the business we do over the Web is that it's all new revenue. And 15 percent of the Web revenue is international business, so we're getting sales from customers we could never have reached without the Web site," maintains Bennett.
Bennett uses WebTrends to analyze his access logs, which he downloads weekly. "I look at the average hits per day, which pages are being accessed and what countries people are visiting from," Bennett says. "One thing I learned by looking at the access statistics was that there was a lot of interest around our entry-level program, Escoffier Junior. So I redesigned the opening page to feature it, and offered a special price to Web site visitors only. Since we track all of our sales inquiries, we could determine that we were generating a lot of phone calls from the Web offer."
Two keys to his Web success, says Bennett, are marketing and constantly refreshing his site's content. "Initially, I made a real-time investment registering our site with every search engine on the Web," he explains. He also surfed the Web in search of compatible food sites to swap links with. He still spends two to three hours looking for new sites every week, and refreshing the content on his site at least two to three times a week.
Bennett is enthusiastic about his company's Web experiences. "It's just been such a low cost for bringing 15 percent additional income into our company," Bennett says. "As a new part of our marketing mix, the Web has become significant to our business. If I had known it was going to be so successful, I would have done it a lot earlier."